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Marshall hosts Purdue on Sunday
By Brian Graham
PURDUE BOILERMAKERS (0-0)at MARSHALL THUNDERING HERD (0-0)
Joan C. Edwards Stadium – Huntington, WV
Kickoff: Sunday, 3:00 p.m. ET
Line: Marshall -7.5, Total: 63
Purdue tries to erase a dreadful 2014 campaign when it opens the 2015 season on Sunday at C-USA favorite Marshall.
The Boilermakers have been awful since Darrell Hazell took over in 2013, going a combined 4-20 SU (11-13 ATS), but they did manage to post a 7-5 ATS mark last year, including 4-1 ATS away from home. To improve the team’s woeful 345 total YPG (108th in FBS), Hazell will have his offense play at a faster pace this season. The Thundering Herd were 13-1 SU (8-5-1 ATS) last year and had no problems piling up gaudy offensive numbers with 45.6 PPG (3rd in nation) and 559 total YPG (2nd in FBS). But superstar QB Rakeem Cato used up his eligibility, leaving James Madison transfer QB Michael Birdsong as the starting signal caller. These teams last played in West Lafayette in 2012, which was a 51-41 victory for 17-point-favorite Purdue. The Herd had 534 yards of offense that day, but were done in by four turnovers and eight penalties. While Marshall has no significant injuries, Purdue will be extremely thin at linebacker, as LB Galen Robinson is suspended two games and the LB trio of Ja’Whan Bentley (back), Jimmy Herman (hamstring) and Danny Ezechukwu (knee) are all questionable. OT J.J. Prince (shoulder) will not play.
Purdue will try to correct its offensive struggles (23.8 PPG, 95th in nation) with junior QB Austin Appleby (1,449 pass yds, 5.3 YPA, 10 TD, 11 INT). The dual-threat Appleby (198 rush yds, 3.2 YPC, 5 TD) stands tall at 6-foot-5, and will frequently target top WR Danny Anthrop (616 rec yds, 16.2 avg, 4 TD). But for Appelby to end a six-start losing skid, he’ll need help from his ground game. Purdue averaged a solid 4.7 yards per carry last year (42nd in FBS), but lost nearly 1,500 rushing yards to graduation. However, sophomore RBs Keyante Green (199 rush yds, 7.4 YPC) and D.J. Knox are both explosive. The defense returns six starters to a unit that allowed 35.7 PPG during its season-ending, six-game losing skid. Purdue surrendered 249 rushing YPG during that slide and needs better production from DTs Jake Replogle (40 tackles, 3 sacks) and Ra’Zahn Howard (20 tackles), especially with the multiple injuries to the linebackers. The Boilermakers were decent in the secondary, holding teams to 6.9 YPA (55th in nation), and bring back star CB Frankie Williams (3 INT, 7 PBU, 74 tackles) to lead the back four.
James Madison transfer QB Michael Birdsong (2,728 pass yds, 7.3 YPA, 22 TD, 15 INT in 2013) is one of five new offensive starters for Marshall. The 6-foot-5, strong-armed quarterback doesn’t have any superstar pass catchers, but his receiving corps is deep with WRs Davonte Allen (544 rec yds, 4 TD), Angelo Jean-Louis (490 rec yds, 6 TD) and Deon-Tay McManus (422 rec yds, 6 TD). But the main engine to this high-octane offense is RB Devon Johnson (1,767 rush yds, 8.6 YPC, 17 TD), a 246-pound converted tight end. He should have a field day on Sunday against Purdue’s injury-riddled linebackers. Marshall’s defense brings back only two starters to the front seven, but both are strong senior leaders in DT Jarquez Samuel (30 tackles) and SLB D.J. Hunter (5.5 sacks, 80 tackles, 10 TFL). CB Corey Tindal (12 PBU, 73 tackles) SS Taj Letman (4 INT, 94 tackles) and FS A.J. Leggett (4 INT, 63 tackles) comprise a major portion of an excellent secondary that allowed only 5.9 yards per pass attempt last year (9th in nation).